This season, Lynne Taylor-Gooby talks summer family adventures; washing-up liquid on the garden slide, getting lost in the garden and those dreaded long-haul flights with the brood!
Welcome to the Summer 2012 Edition; everywhere I look I see signs that the season has turned.
There are flowers out at school, birds are dive-bombing the mossy grass and children in sports kit are rushing about showing every sign of summer fever. And the boy next door has made a large hole in our new fence with a football.
In physics we learn that all actions have an opposite and equal reaction. This is certainly true when applied to the effect of the changing seasons. There is a price to pay for all pleasures. We all yearn for long sunny days when babies and small children can play in the garden, washing can dry and a lightness of spirit returns to the earth. Along with jars of insect repellent, bee sting soothers, high factor sun cream and sun hats.
We moved at about the half-way point of our parenting from a largish house in an inner city with a tiny courtyard garden to a much smaller house in Surrey with a much larger garden. In our city days we would take our gang of children a few short steps to the Downs where thousands of acres of grass was available for play, and mowed by somebody else. We knew the wider region very well, travelling to all sorts of places of interest and spent most weekends out of the city and out of doors. The move meant that we spent most of our weekends trying to keep our much larger garden under control but it also meant that the children were free to play, largely unsupervised, in a biggish space.
Surrey is the most wooded county in England which is one of its chief attractions. Everywhere we go there are hills and trees and beautiful places for walking and cycling. We were delighted to change our paved courtyard for a garden with trees and hedges. I was not, however, prepared to look up one day and see, almost at the top of one of our gigantic Leylandi, a small round face grinning with glee at having outfoxed his mother. I should have been better prepared; the same child had actually got lost in the garden as we were moving in, a real novelty for former city dwellers.
There are no health and safety regulations for what can be done in private gardens which is just as well because unless the average under 10 year old is kept in a cage, many of their choices take them into the danger zone.
We always had a preference for the simple over the complicated and the cheap over the expensive. As a result we were somewhat intimidated by an acquaintance from our NCT group whose summer garden resembled the toy department of Harrods. Every kind of outdoor gismo known to man, or rather toy salesman, was erected every morning in her garden. It took about half an hour to put out and an hour plus to put away making the winter regime look a soft option by comparison.
We were not disposed to spend a lot of money on toys, indoor or outdoor, but we had a couple of favourites both of which I would recommend. I had seen lots of families with variations on a climbing frame and assumed that it would not be appropriate to our small city garden. However exactly the opposite was true. When we did acquire one, we discovered that because it absorbed children upwards it was ideally suited to a restricted space. Our next and current garden is on a long gentle slope and although the price for what is, in fact, a long ribbon of heavy duty plastic was ludicrous at the time, it was one of our children’s most long lasting summer joys.
The long gentle slope was ideal and a hose pipe at the top discharging very small amounts of water enabled scores of children to hurtle themselves down it in their chosen style. It lasted for many years and having later been used by the neighbours on one side, it was last seen being wrapped round the compost bin when the children on the other side had finally grown out of it. One word of caution; do not spice the afternoon up by adding washing-up liquid. We did it once and all of the children came out in a rash of small yellow-headed pimples. It has led me to wonder what effect it might be having on the rest of us when used for washing dishes…
On long distance flights to the Far East I have been surprised to see numbers of families with very young children making this onerous journey for pleasure. The journey itself (nine or ten hours in an aircraft) must be exhausting for the parents and disorientating for the children. My children never liked high temperatures or spicy food and we had no incentive to invest the vast sums necessary to venture so far. Our holidays in South Wales and on the Isle of Wight live in all of our memories as very happy and relatively uncomplicated options. I say relatively uncomplicated; toddlers have a great capacity for eating sand and poking shells up their noses or in their ears, as the Casualty Departments of seaside hospitals can attest. It is certainly true that many accidents happen when families are away from home for the obvious reason that unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar activities provide all sorts of opportunities for mishaps. This is one of the reasons why family holidays are rarely a rest for parents.
For me, one of the greatest joys of holidays was simply being able to relax from the usual routine and to enjoy being together. On our very best holidays we rented part of a barn on an estate in Wales. There were no roads nearby and no rivers or ponds which meant that relatively young children could run about unsupervised to their hearts content while we read the papers (oh luxury).
I made a mental note at that time that if I ever became a grandparent and was still reasonably compos mentis I would try to give the young parents a break where they could travel further afield if they wished and not have to carry with them a crying baby, an inquisitive toddler or a bored adolescent.
As I write the summer holidays are still a few weeks away and we have started trying to impose some order on our unruly garden. I am looking quizzically at my vegetable patch which is very much in the line of fire from the football field next door and wondering whether I have the energy to combat that particular action with an equal and opposite action from my side of the fence.
Lynne Taylor-Gooby is Headmistress of The Royal School, the first school to follow the diamond teaching model in Surrey. Boys and girls are taught together until Year 3, separately until GCSE and together again for Sixth Form. Mrs Taylor-Gooby has four children (two girls and two boys) and has long been an ‘unofficial expert’ on the different learning styles of children and their need for happiness and stability to fulfil their learning potential.